GLASTENBURY — Game wardens shot and killed an adult male bear Friday on the Long Trail after receiving multiple complaints in one day about a bear that had no fear of humans.
Officials had received multiple complaints in the last two to three weeks from hikers, of a bear who had taken backpacks and come into the Goddard Shelter, a lean-to on the trail, while it was occupied, said Lt. Dennis Amsden, a game warden in the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.
On Thursday, the issue "hit a crescendo," with multiple calls. People reported the bear was taking backpacks, and one caller told said the bear had apparently "charged somebody," Amsden said.
"We were encouraging people to [scare] the bear as much as possible," Amsden said. "But unfortunately, its behavior — it became more brazen."
Cell phone reception in the area was poor, so with the calls Thursday, officials didn't know if the bear had injured anybody. Wardens went directly to the area to see if the bear would come back, but it didn't.
On Friday, wardens returned to the area, and when the bear appeared, it was shot and killed.
"The bear was showing no fear of humans at this point," said Amsden, who was not one of the responding wardens Friday. "Human safety was now at risk, so we felt it was necessary to put the bear down," he said. "The remoteness of the area obviously had some challenges for dealing with it."
In the judgement of the game wardens, the bear had become so "conditioned" — that is, so accustomed to food access — that it wasn't going to stop coming back.
"Once a bear is conditioned at that point, it's probably not a bear that is going to change that behavior," Amsden said. "Over the course of a couple weeks, we saw the bear become more and more of a threat."
Officials will collect biological information from the bear that was killed, pulling a tooth for a biologist to tell the bear's age. This data is important to biologists in tracking populations, Amsden said. They'll also do a "very close" examination of the bear, to see if anything is unusual.
With the warm weather and remoteness of the area, it will be difficult, but game wardens will attempt to salvage meat from the bear, Amsden said.
"We have every interest in trying to salvage the bear and use it as much as we can," he said.
The U.S. Forest Service has had numerous reports of bear sightings throughout June and July, and reports of human encounters with black bears continue to increase across the Green Mountain National Forest, according to a media release from the Forest Service.
Game wardens in Vermont kill "a handful" of bears a year at most, Amsden said. More commonly, they deal with complaints of damage by bear and investigate private citizens' shooting of bears, to make sure it was done legally.
The state has stricter laws for shooting bears than it used to, Amsden said. Members of the public can kill a bear only in certain circumstances, such as in self-defense, or to protect property from being damaged. People who have things that lure bears, like garbage or bird feeders, are prohibited from killing them under the property damage justification. "[That's because] the bear would be there only simply because of the actions of the people," Amsden said.
Usually, Amsden said, game wardens have ways around killing these animals.
"We try our best not to kill a bear," he said. "Almost 100 percent of the time, the reason the bear is there is due to a food source. They're completely driven by their appetite. By removing the food source, usually the problem will go away."
"But occasionally, if the bear has had access to food for long enough — say, from a Dumpster — it might become conditioned.
"The biggest message we like to get across is: don't feed the bears," he said.
It is unsafe for both humans and bears, he said. It is also illegal in the state of Vermont.
"This usually occurs due to conditioning which is caused by humans," Amsden said of situations in which bears are killed. That is, people have been deliberately or inadvertently feeding them.
Officials encourage people to remove food from where bears could get it, including keeping a clean camp — not leaving any food, including condiments, out.
It's also important to store food in bear-resistant containers when out in the wilderness, ideally vehicles, and hang food in a bag at least 10 feet from the ground and 5 feet from tree limbs that could support a bear, Amsden said.
Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.
Protecting from bears while in the wilderness:*
- Always keep a clean camp.
- Don't leave any food (including condiments) out when not in use.
- Store food in bear-resistant units, hard-shelled vehicles or car trunks
- Keep sleeping areas, tents and sleeping bags free of food and odor (like toothpaste and deodorant).
- Don't sleep in clothes you cooked or handled fish or game in.
- If camping the backcountry, hang your food bag at least 10 feet off the ground and 5 feet out from a tree limb that could support a bear, or better yet, pack and use bear-resistant containers.
- If possible in backcountry areas, place sleeping tents at least 100 yards from food storage and cooking areas.
- If hiking with dogs, leave them on a leash.
Protecting homes and property from bears:*
- Feed birds from December to March only.
- Never feed bears.
- Feed pets indoors.
- Store trash in a secure place — shed, garage or basement.
-Do not put trash cans at the curb until pickup day.
- Double-bag odorous garbage and regularly clean trash cans with deodorizer.
- Keep chickens and honeybees secure within an electric fence or other bear-proof enclosure.
If you encounter a bear in the woods:
- If your presence causes the bear to change its behavior — it stops feeding, changes direction or watches you — you're too close. Back away while maintaining eye contact.
- Do not run away, as this may trigger the bear to chase you.
- Never intentionally approach a bear.
If you encounter a bear in your yard:
- Do not approach the bear or attempt to chase it away.
- Make loud noise, such as banging together pots and pans.
- Once the bear has left, determine what attracted it and remove the attractant.
*Information from the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department and the U.S. Forest Service.